Meet your meatless meals
Going vegetarian has both health and environmental advantages. You may shun meat for animal welfare or religious reasons, too. You need not be 100 percent vegetarian, though—eating a few meatless meals a week or just reducing the amount of meat on your plate is enough to reap some benefits.
What are some health benefits of going vegetarian?
Plant-based diets—with lots of vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds—are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers, notably colorectal cancer. Vegetarians tend to weigh less and have lower cholesterol levels and fewer digestive problems, such as constipation.
Vegetarian diets are high in fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and low in saturated fat and cholesterol—all of which may contribute to the health benefits. Vegetarians also benefit, no doubt, from the fact that they tend to lead healthier lives in general.
Why is going meatless better for the environment?
Producing meat—beef in particular—requires more energy and causes more pollution than does the growing of plant foods. According to a recent study from Loma Linda University, an animal-based diet uses about three times more water and fossil fuels, 13 times more fertilizer, and 40 percent more pesticides than a vegetarian diet (growing grains for livestock requires lots of fertilizer and pesticides).
And a 2009 report from the Worldwatch Institute blamed at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions—at least 32,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year—on livestock. Skipping red meat and dairy products just one night a week for a year saves the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions produced by driving 760 miles, other research has estimated.
Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (March 2011)